Verse > Anthologies > James Weldon Johnson, ed. > The Book of American Negro Poetry
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James Weldon Johnson, ed. (1871–1938).  The Book of American Negro Poetry.  1922.
 
To a Skull
 
Joshua Henry Jones, Jr.
 
 
GHASTLY, ghoulish, grinning skull,
Toothless, eyeless, hollow, dull,
Why your smirk and empty smile
As the hours away you wile?
Has the earth become such bore        5
That it pleases nevermore?
Whence your joy through sun and rain?
Is ’t because of loss of pain?
Have you learned what men learn not
That earth’s substance turns to rot?        10
After learning now you scan
Vain endeavors man by man?
Do you mind that you as they
Once was held by mystic sway;
Dreamed and struggled, hoped and prayed,        15
Lolled and with the minutes played?
Sighed for honors; battles planned;
Sipped of cups that wisdom banned
But would please the weak frail flesh;
Suffered, fell, ’rose, struggled fresh?        20
Now that you are but a skull
Glimpse you life as life is, full
Of beauties that we miss
Till time withers with his kiss?
Do you laugh in cynic vein        25
Since you cannot try again?
And you know that we, like you,
Will too late our failings rue?
Tell me, ghoulish, grinning skull
What deep broodings, o’er you mull?        30
Tell me why you smirk and smile
Ere I pass life’s sunset stile.
 

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